29 January 2008

Bar Crudo propositions

Unfortunately, San Francisco's quaint, little raw restaurant Bar Crudo is too unpretentious, endearing, and charming for bright lighting that befits a point-and-shoot camera, so I don't have pretty photos of their simple yet beautifully presented food. I would have brought my digital SLR, but seeing as how I had a gift-wrapped 11th Anniversary iPod in one pocket and an engagement ring hidden in another, I did not have the room nor the inclination to bring the super duper camera. More on that in a bit.

First of all, this may sound silly, but Los Angeles is just too sunny. Even when it rains, it's sunny. So, my annual Christmas trip back to Northern California is always a breath of fresh, brisk, damp, jacket-required air. Camille once visited Bar Crudo without me and sang its praises, and I coincidentally read a review at Eat, Drink, & Be Merry (which includes terrific photos), so I figured it would be a nice, romantic spot for our anniversary. My imminent proposal was a big factor in the decision, too -- I didn't want to break out the ring only to have the bill shoved in my face by a harried waiter at a bigger, busier restaurant.

Bar Crudo is an intimate place featuring a tiny kitchen and bar downstairs, and a loft up top containing about nine or so tables. In my experience, raw food is presented without too much adornment, the more to highlight the single flavor/texture being presented. Bar Crudo's menu is a selection of mostly raw seafood, but sushi this ain't. Each dish is a sublime and subtle yet complex layering of ingredients. It is food preparation of the highest order, but using differing ingredient combinations instead of cooking techniques to create the flavors. In some ways, this is even more difficult than running proteins through a gamut of searing/braising/roasting/frying because these dishes require a high foodie vocabulary. I get the sense that chef/co-owner Mike Selvera has tried all of these ingredients every which way you can imagine, and knows how best to play them off of each other. Absolutely sublime.

Small Seafood Platter
Well, it's a plate of shrimp, crab legs, oysters, clams, and mussels on ice. I love this stuff with the exception of the clams (there's a reason "clammy" is an adjective, and a bad one at that). When oysters and mussels fresh, and they were, then they are sweet and delicate, without that rank sea smell you get at supermarket seafood counters. Very good, but I'm not going to go on hyperbole overload (yet). I will, however, stand up and cheer for Bar Crudo's various types of tobiko. The seafood platter comes with the standard sauces you'd expect (cocktail, vinegar, etc), and then there was the familiar snow-like look of tiny, briny fish roe. Except it was bright yellow and tasted distinctly of lemon.

I had no idea you could flavor tobiko. When it comes to movies I like, I can typically point to one scene that wins me over, where in my head something clicks, I tell myself it's a good movie, and the film can do no wrong from that point on. I had that very feeling when I first spooned the lemon tobiko onto a tiny, juicy oyster and sucked the thing into my mouth. Bar Crudo can do no wrong.

Crudo Sampler
I warned you about the hyperbole and here it comes. The Crudo Sampler is like a canvas of fish with various produce and sauces as paint. The flavors compliment, amplify, and otherwise kick things up a notch. This is where things got eye-opening for me.

First up is the Rhode Island Fluke, topped with fennel, orange, and pomegranate seeds. At first, I thought the fluke was yellowtail. It's similar in color and texture and has a mild sweetness. Fennel has a vague licorice flavor (I guess anise would be the proper culinary term) and smells almost like citrus, so it pairs well with orange. The pomegranate provides not only an extra bite, but a tangy, sweet punch.

Next was the Arctic Char, a fish in the salmon family. For some reason, salmon and dill go together. A dab of creme fraiche blends things together more and also balances with the second flavored tobiko of the night, wasabi tobiko. Seriously, who knew you could do this to tobiko? And this wasn't colored horseradish masquerading as wasabi, this was full-on, balls-out, spicy wasabi tobiko. It's like gourmet pop rocks.

Following this was a raw scallop topped with a celery root puree and finished with a fairly standard but still delicious classic, tuna with soy, ginger, and scallions. Basically a big, single piece of ahi poke. All in all, a tremendous single plate of food.

Lobster & Beet Salad
What really sold this dish for me, aside from the perfectly-cooked lobster and fresh beets, was the addition of the pistachios. There was burrata cheese and figs amidst the arugula and a vinaigrette, too, but the pistachios really punctuate the salad and, in the words of The Dude, really tie the room together. The whole thing was sweet, fresh, buttery, juicy... and then the pistachios knock it out of the park. This is what I'm talking about when I say a high foodie vocabulary -- I never would have thought to put lobster, beet, fig, and pistachio together. Yum!

Seafood Chowder with Smoked Applewood Bacon
Again, perfectly-cooked fish that was still juicy and flaky despite having been stewed for God knows how long. It's a nice, rich take on clam chowder, and the smoked bacon flavor is subtle but distinct. It's the perfect soup for a damp San Francisco night.

So, back to that proposal business. We had a pretty late reservation, so by the time we were finishing the chowder, we had the loft entirely to ourselves. I gave Camille her anniversary gift, the iPod, which I preloaded with a video slideshow featuring pictures of us and our various adventures. Except for the handful of photos at the end, which were pictures of me taking an engagement ring out of a bag and offering it up to the camera.

Camille actually looked a little confused, which was when I plopped the ring down on the table in front of her. She offered up her hand, I slid the ring on, and that was that. Pretty smooth, if I do say so myself.

It's worth noting that I never verbally asked the question, and she never verbally responded. Good thing I have a really expensive degree in film to help me communicate these things. Perfect woman, perfect meal, perfect night.

Thanks, Bar Crudo.

603 Bush Street (at Stockton)
San Francisco, CA


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